A hot meal and smile for Adams County elders

Meals on Wheels and Seniors Hub take daily visits with area seniors very seriously

Nina O. Miranda
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 1/1/20

For a homebound senior citizen, where they fall relative to the poverty line matters less than having a hot meal and someone friendly to bring it. That’s true for Northglenn resident Cindy Stremel, …

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A hot meal and smile for Adams County elders

Meals on Wheels and Seniors Hub take daily visits with area seniors very seriously

Posted

For a homebound senior citizen, where they fall relative to the poverty line matters less than having a hot meal and someone friendly to bring it.

That’s true for Northglenn resident Cindy Stremel, one of the 80 Northglenn clients Adams County’s Senior Hub delivers meals to daily. Stremel was one of several clients Adams County Meals on Wheels Director Jessica Gonzalez visited a few days before Christmas.

Stremel opened the door, a bundle of excited energy.

“Hi, honey,” Stremel greeted Gonzalez warmly, inviting her in. Photos on the wall depicting three generations of family are being joined by the Christmas decorations Stremel is hanging.

“I want to show you something,” Stremel said, running to a bedroom, returning with a blue-and-white-checked cloth.

“This was a tablecloth in my family,” she said. “I wanted something more for Christmas on my table, but otherwise I’d have put this on.”

She goes on to explain how the tablecloth was used by her family before remembering to go get her cash donations for her daily meals for the previous week and this one.

Jessica Gonzalez, Meals on Wheels director, said community-based organizations like the Senior Hub serves 68,114 meals annually for the 625 seniors enrolled in the program for both Adams and Arapahoe Counties — 180 of those meals are served hot daily.

In Adams County’s largest cities, they’ll deliver 21,204 meal annually to 331 clients — 80 in Northglenn, 103 in Westminster and 148 in Thornton.

“The Senior Hub is the face of the Meals on Wheels program,” Gonzalez said. “We partner with the Volunteers of America by hand-delivering a hot meal or a box of frozen commodities every day to our clients. No one ever goes hungry. If our clients still don’t have enough food that day, we will send out extra sourced by our food bank.”

According to the Denver Regional Council of Governments, more than 24 percent of the population will be over the age of 60 by 2040 and in Adams and Arapahoe Counties, the number of aging adults is growing exponentially every year.

That’s why the nonprofit agency Senior Hub launched in 1986, to provide services and support to assist aging adults with staying in their home as long as possible.

Gonzalez said human pride can get in the way of accepting this kind of assistance; aging homebound adults who need this type of social assistance often perceive the hot meal or a box of frozen commodities as a hand out instead of a hand up.

The only people she’ll see

It’s a crisp morning, cold enough so that small ponds in the Northglenn area have frozen over when Gonzalez heads out to her first client, Dawna Miller.

“We will be the only people she will see today,” Gonzalez said.

Dawna struggles a bit to open the door, pointing to the newspaper left on her doorstep which Gonzalez picks up for her. It’s a short visit, thanks to the cold, and Gonzalez is on her way shortly.

“Our volunteers tend to develop relationships with our clients,” Gonzalez said. “If the client wants to spend some time visiting, our volunteers will stop and spend a few minutes to chat. Normally the volunteer who tends to this route would’ve sat outside and visited with Donna.”

Some clients pay nothing for the service. Others, like Stremel pay what they can. What matters is they are homebound, she said.

“Based on scores from our intake assessments, we determine whether a client qualifies as homebound to determine their eligibility for the program,” Gonzalez said. “Our clients are reassessed every six months. Donations are requested, but income isn’t a requirement to participate in this program.”

It’s a fine line for some clients, she said.

“That’s why some people might be confused,” Gonzalez said. “People above the poverty line think they don’t qualify for the program, but if they are homebound, they do. It’s really about their mobility. Cindy is one of our more mobile clients.”

This visit is longer, but Gonzalez is soon off to her next stop.

“By the end of the year, we will have delivered over 89,000 meals to our 625 clients in both counties. Our goal for 2020 is to delivery over 90,000 meals,” Gonzalez said.

Mary Minor’s little dogs are barking when Gonzalez show up. Minor doesn’t remember why we are here until she is reminded of Meals on Wheels delivery. The visit is short because Minor already has a visitor.

“We serve clients in both urban and rural environments,” Gonzalez said. “What’s interesting is that our clients in rural areas are mostly couples of the same age, whereas in the city they are single and the ratio of female to male is about 4.5 to 1.”

Her last stop is Viola Aquino, who shares the home with two sons. Another caretaker who assists Viola with cleaning is just leaving when Gonzalez arrives.

“We offer more than just Meals on Wheels,” Gonzalez said. “Clients can request help with bathing, dressing, or other non-medical home care like someone coming to fix a plumbing issue.”

It’s the kind of help many seniors need but are not always open to asking for, Gonzalez said.

“They tend to think of the Senior Hub as social assistance, especially male vets,” Gonzalez said. “For example, we received a referral from one of the hospitals that a client needed help because he is a fall risk, but when we contacted him, he denied needing it. The thing is, he really does need it.”

The social stigma for receiving help could be stemming from a generational view.

“Sometimes our seniors are those who were born after the Great Depression. They worked hard, saved up, and then lost their retirement in the 2000s, so now they need help,” Gonzalez said. “The stigma for needing help is hard to overcome. Sometimes we can bridge that gap by incorporating kids into the mix. Kids are afraid to help seniors, but there are programs where we are creating cross-generational connections to change that.”

Assurances given

Gonzalez was a single mom who committed herself to a direct services career when she experienced an uncharitable exchange with someone in human services. Her goal is to keep that from happening as much as possible, she said.

“I decided I wanted to make sure I could make a difference for someone so that they would not feel bad about needing help,” she said. “I rely heavily on my training in mental health therapy for coaching my volunteers and in dealing with clients. And I make sure I also get on the frontline and volunteer to deliver meals every now and then to be reminded about why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Like any community-based effort, it takes a village, she said.

“We are really lucky to have the support of our partners, including Westminster Fire, the Northglenn mayor and council members, and the Thornton Police Department,” Gonzalez said. “The clients get especially excited when the volunteers are escorted by the police vehicle and get a visit from the officers.”

For more information on the Senior Hub, visit http://www.seniorhub.org or call the main number 303-426-4408.

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